Point 1: Knowing What a Diecut Label Is
Normally, diecut labels are created by using a shaped cutting tool, as you would use a cookie cutter or pastry cutter, to slice through material. This may produce a finished product with rounded rather than square corners, (square corners are more likely to catch on things than round) and one that is generally easy to apply. Often, a custom diecut label project requires the production of a label that does not conform to any standard shape, but is instead based on a wide variety of images, such as a ribbon shape for an anniversary seal, a triangle, heart, or football, or some other custom shape.
Diecut labels are the most commonly produced and sold labels of the printing world, with almost endless applications, so diecutting is a standard procedure in labeling production. Once you have decided on the best size and shape of label, suitable for your container, product or surface, the supplier you hire will print and then diecut the label to your specifications. (If the labels are diecut first and then printed, you could not have any bleeds.) In addition, the material you choose for your label will determine both the best diecutting procedures and the best method of printing.
Point 2: Understanding the Diecutting Process
Diecutting started out as an innovation in the 19th century Industrial Age – a way to cut patterns on materials such as leather, rubber and fabric. Modern diecutting machines can now slice through a single layer of laminate on a label, with a technique called kiss-cutting.
On a rotary press, gears turn a cylindrical-shaped die to cut a long sheet or web of material which is continuously fed through the press to the area or "station" for cutting or making perforations. The die rotates at a speed that allows cutting to be done inline with printing for the necessary registration and artwork, and continuously repeats the image.
On the other hand, flat-bed diecutting uses an up-and-down technique to do the cut. The die is lowered to cut the shape, then raised, while the material is moved the precise amount needed; then the die is lowered again to make the next cut.
As you can tell, this is a much slower way to die cut labels!
Point 3: Choosing the Right Diecutting Tools
To produce a flat die, a block of wood (or now, plastic) is machine-cut to the shape, and a blade is inserted into the cut. To produce a rotary die, a round piece of steel is tooled out so that the cutting area is higher than the rest of the tool and then hardened the proper amount. This takes more precise and expensive machines to produce, but the die has a much longer life.
The essential difference between cutting on these two types of presses involves speed and expense – the flatbed press cannot cut as fast as the rotary, but the tools it uses are cheaper. Flatbeds, saving the extra expense of a rotary die, are better suited to smaller print runs, whereas rotary dies are more cost effective when dealing with longer runs.
The choice of a solid rotary die versus a magnetic one will be dictated by both costs and the material to be cut. A solid die costs 4-5 times more than the magnetic variety. Dies for rotary diecutting can be either solid engraved dies, adjustable dies, or magnetic plate tooling ("mag dies").
The engraved dies, machined out of solid steel, have a much higher tolerance. Adjustable dies have removable blades that can be readily swapped out with other blades to cut a different material or be replaced due to wear. Mag dies, consisting of a cylinder with magnets in it, let a thin, flexible, engraved metal plate be wrapped around the cylinder and held in place by magnetic pull. Mag dies reduce storage and shipping costs, but the complexity of the project, and the width and thickness of the material, dictate the final choice of cutting tools.
Point 4: Preventing Problems When Diecutting Labels
Creating a new, custom, diecut label can be a complex, intricate process, depending on the specifications of the finished product.
Dies must be tooled for shallower or deeper cuts without slicing the labels' backing paper; e.g., piggyback/coupon labels need two separate blades to cut to different depths, and varying liner materials require different cutting depths. Precision is also needed to avoid a cracked liner – if the cuts are too deep, the label's adhesive could leak out, or the liner could snap during automatic label dispensing.
Dies must be set on a hard roller, integrated into the machine, without paper, tape, glue, or other adhesive material present that could prop up the material, causing the cutting blade to slice too deeply. Dies must also be aligned correctly to reduce minuscule shifts of the material, and while tolerance on the die cutters helps to correct this problem, it may show up on a label with an especially thin border.
Point 5: Choosing the Right Printing Equipment for Diecut Labels
Diecut labels can be printed on with a variety of methods. A common, less expensive approach is direct thermal printing, which uses a thermal printhead to apply heat to a chemically treated surface such as paper, which turns black where the heat is applied. Two-color printers can print in black as well as another color such as red or blue. The heat-sensitive material can darken from additional heat or light, causing labels to be unreadable or barcodes to be unscannable, so this method generally works best for short-lived barcode applications, including name tags, shipping labels, grocery labels for such items as meat packages, and receipts.
Another method for printing diecut labels is thermal transfer printing, which employs a ribbon, which can also print in color. Thermal transfer printed materials can handle high temperatures and chemical exposure, and create durable images suitable for longer-lasting applications, such as asset tags and other inventory-control labels.
A useful option for diecut label printing is to create diecut shell labels with color logos or other pre-printed imagery. Rolled shell labels can be printed with either four-color process or spot color printing by running them through a Sato or Zebra brand thermal transfer printer. These labels can also be put through other printers, including laser or inkjet, to put additional information on them in such ink colors as blue and black.
About the author: Michelle Feldman is the marketing associate at SixB Labels. To learn more about the company, click here for an in-depth profile. To view the original story, click here.